Treating Emerald Ash Borer in West Virginia

As a consulting arborist based in Jefferson County I have observed the emerald ash borer’s devastating impact on the ash tree population throughout the eastern panhandle of west virginia over the past few years. The imported beetle is sweeping through the region at such a rate that many people are being caught off guard. I have seen a wide range of management approaches taken by homeowners, municipalities, and other tree managers, and would like to share my experience with one particular park in Shepherdstown.

My wife and I moved to Shepherdstown about a year ago and we quickly got to know Morgan’s Grove Park as it is nearby and an excellent place to take our dog for a stroll and frolic. The tree freak in me quickly realized that a large proportion of the mature tree population in a highly used section of the park comprised green ash. I was naturally curious as to how Jefferson County was approaching their emerald ash borer management so I started asking around. Interestingly, although the park functions as a public park and is maintained through contract by Jefferson County, it is actually owned by a private entity (Shepherdstown Community Club), so I arranged a conversation with one of their board members to get the details.

I learned that the community club had been researching EAB but had no active management plan. It was then my obligation to explain the dramatic impacts already exhibited in surrounding areas and that they had to assume that all of their trees would be standing dead hazards within a few years if no action was taken. (This meant they would lose about 75 mature ash trees averaging 19.5 inches diameter at standard height, including West Virginia’s third largest green ash on record.)

The conversation quickly turned to their management options, none of them appealing to a non-profit organization with a limited budget. They could do nothing and be prepared for the risk, expense and dramatic impact of canopy loss in a park heavily used by the public. Or they could treat some or all of the trees, realizing that some trees may already be infested and that the success of treatment is not guaranteed. For treatments I recommended trunk injections of Tree-age® (emamectin benzoate). The injection method because it would minimize any unintended environmental impacts and risk to the public. Tree-age because it is the only insecticide recognized by arborists to be both preventative and therapeutic, actually showing capacity to halt preexisting light infestations of less than 20 percent of crown. Plus, it allows for an interval of two years between follow-up treatments.

I assume there was some deliberation but within a few days after our meeting, the Community Club contacted me saying they had decided to have all of their ash trees treated in an effort to protect their existing tree canopy. As it just so happened, I had obtained my WV pesticide applicator’s license a few months earlier and was able to offer to do the work that they needed. We drafted up a contract and I stocked up on Tree-age and injection equipment.

I spent every day of the last two weeks of May at Morgan’s Grove Park with my trusty Tree IV® kit performing trunk injections. The weather was cooperating and the trees took up the Tree-age at a quick rate. The entire process took from 20 minutes to one hour for each tree, depending on overall size and health. By the end of the month I could confidently say that every ash tree in Morgan’s Grove Park (in fair or better condition, a total of 73 trees) had taken up the Tree-age and that if their ash trees were going to survive the EAB onslaught, the Community Club had taken the best steps to give them a fighting chance.

If Morgan’s Grove Park were a municipally owned park, it is hard to know if the funds would have been available to take this kind of action. Being an independent organization the Community Club made a quick decision and took it upon themselves to provide the funding upfront and turn to the local community for donations to recuperate the cost. In fact, they started a “Save Our Stately Ash Trees” campaign and have had a remarkable response from donors. And if the ashes still show good health two years from now, the Community Club is confident that the community will step in with support once again. In the name of public and environmental stewardship this all volunteer organization took a risk, and the next couple of years will reveal whether the ash treatments were effective and that they took the right course of action. Or, from my perspective, the next couple of years will reveal whether a certain arborist is deemed the local GOAT or HERO.